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The long and winding Beatles docuseries will enchant die-hard and casual fans

<em>The Beatles: Get Back</em> concludes with the band's legendary 1969 rooftop concert.
Courtesy Apple Corps Ltd. / Disney +
The Beatles: Get Back concludes with the band's legendary 1969 rooftop concert.

As I see it, there are two very different audiences for Get Back, Peter Jackson's new documentary about The Beatles' Let It Be sessions. There are the most rabid fans, who will watch it and recognize instantly the stuff they've never heard or seen before. And for them — well, for us, because I'm part of that group — this Disney+ docuseries is a true treasure. For everyone else, the first part of The Beatles: Get Back may be slow going.

What you're basically doing is watching John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrisonand Ringo Starr rehearse, revise and procrastinate. They debate a lot about where to stage their planned concert and even what songs to include. At one point, they decide to revisit a lot of compositions they wrote and abandoned much earlier in their careers, in case they could use some to pad out the set list. One such song, "One After 909," makes the cut, and ends up being one of the album's high-energy highlights. Another number with a blatant country flavor, "Because I Know You Love Me So," surfaces for the first time here, with Paul dismissing it as soon as they finish performing it.

There are joys even in this early stretch, because you get to see the original Let It Be documentary, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, take shape. At first, The Beatles and the film crew assemble on a cavernous movie soundstage to rehearse, and on Day 1, Lindsay-Hogg actually approaches the Beatles and asks them to play more quietly so that he can record their conversations.

As tensions rise during early rehearsals, the cameras captures everything, including the moment when George responds to a casual call for a lunch break by telling his fellow Beatles, just as casually, that he's taking a break from the band — effective immediately. He ends up gone for days.

The tension behind that temporary breakup is the drama that dominated the original Let It Be film, but it's only one of three major elements in Jackson's expanded three-part docuseries. Part one, the first day of the TV series, is about the breakup. Part two is about the reconciliation — and the energy infusion that comes when the group moves to a smaller and friendlier rehearsal space, and when keyboard player Billy Prestondrops by and instantly is invited to sit in on the sessions. And the focus of part three is the complete concert, which The Beatles finally decide to hold as an impromptu event on the roof of their own building.

The rooftop concert here, with much more music and material than in the original Let It Be movie, is the part that should excite and enchant even the most casual Beatles fans. The concert is amazing — and so is the group's joyful reaction listening to the playback immediately afterward. It's a great end to this particular story, but not to the story of The Beatles. Earlier, this documentary shows them rehearsing not only songs for the Let It Be album, but for three of their respective upcoming solo albums. They also rehearse lots of songs that would end up on Abbey Road, which they would begin recording immediately after that rooftop concert. And to me, watching and hearing songs like Harrison's "Something" take shape, with input from Lennon, is priceless.

So my final verdict on The Beatles: Get Back documentary is this: Even if you don't know much about The Beatles, or don't care much about them, you should watch the final third of this new TV show — then, after you're persuaded of their brilliance and are hooked, then work your way backward. But if you know and love the group enough to get excited by learning about their creative process, and by witnessing it in real time, this new documentary is made for you. And for me.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.